Edward John Eyre - Vol 1 - Ch 14

Proceed to the Westward — Cliffs of the Great Bight — Level Nature of the Interior — Flints Abound — Return to Yeer-Kumban-Kauwe — Natives Come to the Camp — Their Generous Conduct — Meet the Overseer — Return to Depot — Bad Water — Move Back to Fowler’s Bay — Arrival of the Gutter Hero — Joined by the King George’s Sound Native — Instructions Relative to the Hero — Difficulty of Fixing Upon Any Future Plan — Break Up the Expedition and Divide The Party — Mr. Scott Embarks — Final Report — The Hero Sails — Overseer and Natives Remain — Excursion to the North — A Native Joins Us — Sudden Illness in the Party — Final Preparations for Leaving the Depot.

January 10. — WE left Yeer-kumban-kauwe early, and proceeding to the westward, passed through an open level tract of country, of from three to four hundred feet in elevation, and terminating seawards abruptly, in bold and overhanging cliffs, which had been remarked by Captain Flinders, but which upon our nearer approach, presented nothing very remarkable in appearance, being only the sudden termination of a perfectly level country, with its outer face washed, steep and precipitous, by the unceasing lash of the southern ocean. The upper surface of this country, like that of all we had passed through lately, consisted of a calcareous oolitic limestone, below which was a hard concrete substance of sand or of reddish soil, mixed with shells and pebbles; below this again, the principal portion of the cliff consisted of a very hard and coarse grey limestone, and under this a narrow belt of a whitish or cream-coloured substance, lying in horizontal strata; but what this was we could not yet determine, being unable to get down to it any where. The cliffs were frightfully undermined in many places, enormous masses lay dissevered from the main land by deep fissures, and appearing to require but a touch to plunge them headlong into the abyss below. Back from the sea, the country was level, tolerably open, and covered with salsolae, or low, prickly shrubs, with here and there belts of the eucalyptus dumosa. In places two or three miles back from the coast there was a great deal of grass, that at a better season of the year would have been valuable; now it was dry and sapless. No timber was visible any where, nor the slightest rise of any kind. The whole of this level region, elevated as it was above the sea, was completely coated over with small fresh water spiral shells, of two different kinds.

After travelling about twenty-five miles along the cliffs, we came all at once to innumerable pieces of beautiful flint, lying on the surface, about two hundred yards inland. This was the place at which the natives had told us they procured the flint; but how it attained so elevated a position, or by what means it became scattered over the surface in such great quantities in that particular place, could only be a matter of conjecture. There was no change whatever in the character or appearance of the country, or of the cliffs, and the latter were as steep and impracticable as ever.

Five miles beyond the flint district we turned a little inland and halted for the night upon a patch of withered grass. During the day we had been fortunate enough to find a puddle of water in a hollow of the rock left by yesterday’s rain, at which we watered the horses, and then lading out the remainder into our bucket carefully covered it up with a stone slab until our return, as I well knew, if exposed to the sun and wind, there would not be a drop left in a very few hours. Kangaroos had been seen in great numbers during the day, but we had not been able to get a shot at one. Our provisions were now nearly exhausted, and for some days we had been upon very reduced allowances, so that it was not without some degree of chagrin that we saw so many fine animals bounding unscathed around us.

January 11. — Having travelled fifteen miles further along the cliffs, I found them still continue unchanged, with the same level uninteresting country behind. I had now accomplished all that I expected to do on this excursion, by ascertaining the character of the country around the Great Bight; and as our horses were too weak to attempt to push beyond the cliffs to the next water, and as we ourselves were without provisions, I turned homewards, and by making a late and forced march, arrived at the place where we had left the bucket of water, after a day’s ride of forty-five miles. Our precaution as we had gone out proved of inestimable value to us now. The bucket of water was full and uninjured, and we were enabled thus to give our horses a gallon and a half each, and allow them to feed upon the withered grass instead of tying them up to bushes, which we must have done if we had had no water.

January 12. — In our route back to “Yeer-kumban-kauwe” we were lucky enough to add to our fare a rat and a bandicoot, we might also have had a large brown snake, but neither the boy nor I felt inclined to experimentalise upon so uninviting an article of food; after all it was probably mere prejudice, and the animal might have been as good eating as an eel. We arrived at the water about noon, and the remainder of the day afforded a grateful rest both to ourselves and to the horses.

January 13. — Our fire had gone out during the night, and all our matches being wet, we could not relight it until noon, when the rays of a hot sun had dried them again. Having eaten our slender dinner, I walked out to water the horses, leaving the boy in charge of the camp. Upon my return I found him comfortably seated between two of our friends the natives, who had just returned from a hunting excursion, bringing with them the half roasted carcass of a very fine kangaroo. They had already bestowed upon the boy two very large pieces, and as soon as I made my appearance they were equally liberal to me, getting up the moment I arrived at the camp, and bringing it over to me of their own accord. The supply was a most acceptable one, and we felt very grateful for it. Having received as much of the kangaroo as would fully last for two days, I gave a knife in return to the eldest of the men, with which he seemed highly delighted. I would gladly have given one to the other also, but I had only one left, and could not spare it. The natives remained in camp with us for the night, and seemed a good deal surprised when they saw us re-roasting the kangaroo; frequently intimating to us that it had already been cooked, and evidently pitying the want of taste which prevented us from appreciating their skill in the culinary art.

January 14. — Upon our leaving this morning the natives buried in the sand the remains of their kangaroo, and accompanied us a mile or two on our road, then turning in among the sand-hills they returned to renew their feast. They had been eating almost incessantly ever since they arrived at the water yesterday, and during the night they had repeatedly got up for the same purpose. The appetites of these people know no restraint when they have the means of gratifying them; they have no idea of temperance or prudence, and are equally regardless of the evil resulting from excess as they are improvident in preparing for the necessities of the morrow — ”sufficient (literally so to them) for the day is the evil thereof.”

In our route to-day instead of following round the sea-shore, we struck across behind the sand-hills, from “Yeerkumban-kauwe” to the water we had first found on the 7th of January, and in doing so we passed along a large but shallow salt-water lake, which the natives had pointed to on the evening of the 7th, when I made inquiries relative to the existence of salt water inland. The margin of this lake was soft and boggy, and we were nearly losing one of our horses which sank unexpectedly in the mud. About noon we arrived at the camp, from which I had sent the man back on the 6th, and having picked up the water and other things left there, proceeded to the sand-hills near which we had halted during the intense heat of that day. We now rested for several hours, and again moved onwards about eleven at night to avoid the great heat of the day whilst crossing the sandy country before us.